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Twitter Says Labels and Warnings Slowed Spread of False Election Claims

11/12/2020 | 04:15pm EST

By Georgia Wells

Twitter Inc. plans to continue its policy of labeling what it deems misleading information, despite persistent criticism from President Trump and other conservatives that it silences their commentary on the election.

In a blog post Thursday, Twitter said it had labeled approximately 300,000 tweets for content that was disputed and potentially misleading, representing 0.2% of all U.S. election-related tweets sent between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11.

The company said its data shows the labels significantly decreased the spread of misinformation across the platform. Twitter said it is reverting to its previous practices on recommendations and other products, after seeing little effect from those changes made ahead of the election.

"These enforcement actions remain part of our continued strategy to add context and limit the spread of misleading information about election processes around the world on Twitter," Vijaya Gadde and Kayvon Beykpour said in a blog post. Ms. Gadde is Twitter's legal, policy, and trust and safety lead. Mr. Beykpour serves as product lead at Twitter.

Twitter said during the election period it also covered 456 of the misleading tweets with a warning message that further limited the engagement features of those posts.

Those labels and warning messages appeared to decrease the spread of misleading information. Twitter said the tweets that received the labels and warnings saw a 29% decrease in shares, in part due to the prompts that warned users of their disputed information. Approximately 75% of the people who viewed those tweets saw them after Twitter applied the label or warning message, Twitter said.

Twitter earlier on Thursday placed a label on a tweet from President Trump about alleged voter fraud, saying the claim was disputed. The move continued a pattern in which Twitter has regularly labeled Mr. Trump's posts about the election as misleading or disputed, fueling calls from the president and his supporters that the company is biased against him.

U.S. officials have characterized the 2020 election as the most secure in the country's history.

An October study led by a Stanford University political science researcher found Mr. Trump's tweets questioning the U.S. election's legitimacy are effective in shaping his supporters' beliefs that the outcome is rigged.

Twitter executives have said they act without political motivations. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey is scheduled to testify Nov. 17 before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the company's decision last month to block a pair of New York Post articles it said were based on documents obtained from the laptop of Hunter Biden.

Twitter blocked the Post's account for two weeks, before changing its rules to allow the newspaper back on the platform. Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is also scheduled to testify before the committee.

Ahead of the U.S. election, Twitter and other social-media companies faced pressure from lawmakers, candidates and watchdog groups to reduce the spread of misinformation that could undermine Americans' confidence in the electoral process. While Facebook also added some labels and reduced the recommendation of certain content on its platform, Twitter's intervention involved more proactive measures to label certain disputed claims and required users to click through labels to see the content.

The tech platforms have hoped to avoid a repeat of 2016, when foreign actors, including Russia's Internet Research Agency, spread viral messages on Facebook and Twitter that appeared to try to sow divisions and encourage some Americans not to vote.

In an effort to undercut the effectiveness of conspiracy theories, Twitter this cycle also showed users a series of messages intended to "pre-bunk" potentially false claims. These messages included statements that the election results were likely to be delayed and that voting by mail is safe and legitimate. Twitter said users saw these prompts 389 million times.

Twitter during the election also encouraged users to add their own context when amplifying content. To do this, Twitter added more steps for users to reshare tweets, and prompted them to write something when doing so.

"This change introduced some friction, and gave people an extra moment to consider why and what they were adding to the conversation," Ms. Gadde and Mr. Beykpour said in the blog post. Since making that change in late October, Twitter said it observed a 20% decrease in tweet sharing.

Twitter also said it would be sharing a comprehensive report on the election early next year.

--Emily Glazer contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

11-12-20 1614ET

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